- By Alicia P.Q. WittmeyerAlicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
WikiLeaks may have launched as a venue for publishing sensitive leaked information, but it eventually began working more closely with established media outlets to showcase its scoops.
Today, with the unveiling of its new Strongbox feature, the New Yorker is taking the next step, cutting out the middleman entirely and going straight to the whistleblower: Strongbox is a system similar to WikiLeaks’s dropbox where sources can provide information to the magazine’s reporters and editors through a system that can’t record IP addresses, browsers, computers, or operating systems.
Strongbox uses the Tor network (designed by some of our FP Global Thinkers!) to ensure I.P. address anonymity, and provides users with randomly generated code names they can use to sign in (you can read more about how it works here).
The New Yorker actually isn’t the first news organization to adopt the WikiLeaks model — the Wall Street Journal tried something similar in 2011, though some noted at the time that the site had technical issues that could compromise anonymity (as AllThingD points out, the Journal hasn’t said a lot about how much use it’s gotten out of the site). The code for Strongbox, written by the famed late programmer/activist Aaron Swartz, is open source, which means we might well see other news organizations set up their own dropboxes in the near future (Swartz was working with the investigations editor at Wired to put the project together, for example).
In one sense, Strongbox isn’t quite breaking new ground: sources have been leaking anonymously to news organizations ever since there was wrongdoing and people around to write about it. But as this week has shown, the protection of that anonymity has become more difficult — even when news organizations try their hardest to maintain the privacy of sources. The secure dropbox was part of what initially made WikiLeaks innovative. Could it transform news reporting as well?